When I speak to my peers about their feelings regarding Donald Trump, I am often met with surprise that he has prospered in the primary election — that his influence on our electorate is random rather than explainable. This is not true. Donald Trump is a carefully-calculated demagogue who is excellent at saying what voters want to hear. Regardless of how “silly” people find many of Trump’s stances, his sentiments resonate with a significant chunk of our population. Trump’s success in this election is not just a reflection of him as a politician, but a reflection of emerging and excited public opinion that is realigning the GOP.
Historically, large groups of people who do not express their feelings publicly are called the “silent majority.” This term was made popular with a speech by Richard Nixon in 1969 when he asked for support of the Vietnam War from the silent majority whom he believed was on his side. Trump has since applied this term to his campaign, contending that the current silent majority has been abused, forgotten or mistreated by the media, our government and general public. Indeed, many supporters at Trump’s rallies tote the “silent majority” sign, though it is somewhat contradictory to the notion of “silence.” Nevertheless, to Trump’s credit, he has made this silent majority louder democratically. Per Michael McDonald of the University of Florida, voter turnout for Republican primaries has increased by about 7.5 million voters since 2012 — many of whom can be directly or indirectly attributed to Trump. Still, “silent majority” means little in our current political context without definition from its members. One Trump supporters, George Davies of Des Moines, says that the current silent majority represents a distaste for our “culture of political correctness” — that this majority must remain silent about their true political feelings, or they will be considered bullies by the liberal opposition. However, this silent majority’s distaste for political correctness is not what is important. What is important are the feelings veiled by the cries against political correctness.
Trump’s positions need not be overstated. The carefully-calculated demagogue is so certain of his followers’ convictions that he could “shoot somebody and…(not) lose voters.” The following quotes are from from his speeches, interviews or official online platform: “make Mexico pay for (a) wall,” “(put) an end to China’s…lax labor and environmental standards,” “(host) a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” “win the Latino vote because I will create jobs,” “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese,” “the police are the most mistreated people in this country.” Regardless of the merit of these positions, they nonetheless stand in stark contrast to the stances of other GOP candidates — most of which are more nuanced and moderate than Trump’s. What is important, however, is that Trump’s positions do not deter voters. We are to assume, therefore, that his voters implicitly or explicitly agree with his platform to a certain extent, and that they are motivated enough to support him in the polls. These ideas and feelings are bigger than Trump — even though many would like to believe that he is an isolated phenomenon with isolated feelings.
The Trump-led coalition of newly-excited voters indicates an abrupt reorientation rightward for the GOP. Indeed, this shift might be too abrupt for other candidates to adjust. Since about 2010, intense political partisanship and polarization has been relatively fringe, though successful in concerted efforts (i.e. the Tea Party) to obstruct legislation. Now, moderation seems fringe. The GOP’s other candidates, Cruz and Kasich, appear bland and powerless on debate stages that are dominated by Trump-centered questions, answers, and rhetoric — not to mention that both are trailing heavily in delegates. This is evidenced by the time in which each candidate speaks, where Trump has gotten more speaking time than any other candidate — upwards of 6-7 minutes per debate (per NPR “On the Clock). He uses this time to communicate and reinforce his provocative positions — clearly-articulated hostilities toward Mexico, Mexicans, Muslims, China, protesters and any person who opposes the new “silent majority.” Donald Trump could rescind his bid for president today, but it would not change the excitement that he has spurred from his stances on these topics.
It is comforting for some to think that Donald Trump is an isolated phenomenon with no real following — but that could not be further from the truth. Think of Donald Trump not as a person, but as a catalyst for reorientation — not an aberration, but a reflection of deeper feelings within our country.